Over 2 million refugees will leave Afghanistan this calendar year with 50% expected to be children, according to projections from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). More than 76,000 refugees have arrived so far in the United States by Feb. 19, as reported by the Department of Homeland Security. A continent away, close to 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine as Russian shelling has made many major Ukrainian cities uninhabitable.
As sociopolitical conflicts ensue in their respective homelands, millions of displaced people are seeking safety in the United States. For these refugees, restarting their lives in a foreign country can be a formidable task.
As crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine rage on, we urge the Palo Alto community to learn more about the current situation, and support refugees through financial or physical contributions to re-settlement organizations.
One of the easiest ways to help refugees is to donate to volunteer organizations that help with the resettlement process.
Len Lehman, leads an Afghan Sponsor Circle in the Bay Area, a group of volunteers who match with an Afghan family and help settle them into American life. By donating to organizations like the Sponsor Circle, you can help provide refugees with money to provide for themselves in such an expensive locale.
Your dollar can also enable the creation of community help centers. For Sedique Popal, president of the board of directors at Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center, donations to his organization will allow them to create a center to provide refugee families with childcare and food, as well as create care packages for refugee families.
Volunteering to teach, babysit or care for children of refugees is another way to help them adjust to life in the U.S.
Many refugees come to the country with little education, technological skills or understanding of English, proficiencies necessary for almost every job today. Teaching these skills would provide them access to future financial security in America.
The Ukrainian refugee situation differs from that of Afghanistan in one critical way: its legality.
“We [Bay Area residents] live in a very comfortable place, and it’s easy for us to just not want to hear about the suffering that’s taking place elsewhere in the world in many places.”
— Len Lehman, Afghan Sponsor Circle leader
“We’re not going to see the masses of people from Ukraine … like folks might imagine, because the legal pathways here are very restricted,” Jane Pak, the co-executive director of Refugee & Immigrant Transitions, said.
According to Pak, the best way to support Ukrainian refugees right now is through community-organized efforts, like the Facebook group “Accomodation, Help & Shelter for Ukraine” that was recently created for Ukrainian refugees to connect with potential volunteer helpers in other countries and receive access to shelter, jobs and support.
If you do not have the means to donate money or time to supporting refugees right now, we urge you to spend a few minutes educating yourself on the current situation.
“We [Bay Area residents] live in a very comfortable place, and it’s easy for us to just not want to hear about the suffering that’s taking place elsewhere in the world in many places,” Lehman said.
- Read about a young Afghan family’s experience resettling in the Bay Area
- The International Rescue Committee of Northern California helps refugees who have been granted sanctuary in the Bay Area become self-sufficient.
- The Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay has an office in Palo Alto and a Refugees Service team that welcomes new refugees locally and helps them with resources.
- The Noor Islamic And Cultural Community Center puts together care packages to help Afghan refugees and is currently fundraising for an afterschool program to support Afghan youth.
- Refugee & Immigrant Transitions facilitates vocational and professional education, as well as community leadership opportunities, for refugees.
- Nova Ukraine is headquartered in Palo Alto and is dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine and raising awareness about Ukraine.
- Sponsor Circles is training and certifying the volunteer groups (“circles”) and matching them with Afghan families. Read more about them.
- The 5ive Pillars Organization is an Afghan-American led organization that aids in the resettlement of refugees in Northern California. In conjunction with the City of Hayward we provide vital case management support and rapid response aid to families.